Saturday, June 1, 2013

Shortcut for creating a typesfe List or Set in Java

Given a method:
weekPlanner(List<DayOfWeek> dowl)
I've been writing the following code to pass a typesafe list to it:
List<DayOfWeek> favDays = new ArrayList<>();
Today I finally realized that I can do this:
It even says so in the JavaDoc for Arrays.asList(), but who knew? You can also wrap your new list in Collections.unmodifiableList()! I was very excited about using this to make an ImmutableList class so that I could make a call like the following:
But then I realized that the first thing I'd want to do is to declare my weekPlanner method so that the caller would know that the method didn't modify the list or have side-effects. If weekPlanner() only uses sequential access to the list, I could declare it as an Iterable:
weekPlanner(Iterable<DayOfWeek> favDays)
Probably though I should really be using an immutable Set:
weekPlanner(ImSet<DayOfWeek> favDays)

But now I can't pass a mutable Set to it anymore because the java.util.Set interface would have to extend an immutable set to make that possible. This mostly explains why Scala collections do not extend the Java Collections API. Another reason is that the List.add() method in Java (and other similar methods) returns a boolean instead of a new or modified List. Having to avoid these bogus Java methods in Scala would be error prone. But that doesn't explain why the Java API doesn't tack on methods like ImmutableList<E> append(E... args). I guess the remove() method would be difficult to retrofit, but I'd get a lot of mileage from just the append method...

I have loved Java for years and am tremendously appreciative of all the effort that went into making such a great language and making it basically freely available. But smarter people than I must have found the mutable skeletons in Java's closet years ago. Why did their voices go unheard by Sun and later Oracle? What is the down-side of adding a few Immutabile parent interfaces to the Java Collections API interfaces (Collection, List, Map, Set, etc.)?

I'd like to think that Martin Odersky would have argued for immutability before he left Sun and focused instead on making Scala. But Scala was conceived in 2001 and released in 2003. I don't know if immutability was a key feature from the beginning, but that's a long time for Java to ignore it. Maybe someone who knows more about this will enlighten me with a comment...

At least for me, the default assumption of public mutability of objects in Java is my primary motivation for moving to a language like Scala. The newer JVM languages have other great perks, but that's probably the one that will make me take action.

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